The Sorority House Director
COVID on Campus: Terri Hoalcraft
I had my own cleaning business for 19 years and one of my clients was a lady named Judy. She was on the board at Gamma Phi Beta at Syracuse University and I swear it was set up because I was only cleaning for her for a couple of years when she told me there was this position open in the sorority house. So obviously, out of curiosity, I had to go check it out because I had never been inside a Greek house before. My mind was blown because I had a preconceived notion that it was going similar to Animal House, but that’s not what it is like at all.
I will have been working as the facility director for five years this January, but right now it doesn’t feel like a Greek organization because of the pandemic. You used to always be able to hear people giggling and screaming and playing music and interacting with each other and being social with each other. But now, if it weren’t for the fact that I heard a shower running, I wouldn’t know there was anyone else other than me in that house. A couple of weeks ago I heard someone playing music a couple of weeks ago and I ran and knocked on their door and said “can you turn it up?” because that’s what’s missing. Now I just put on my AirPods so I can hear something because the silence is deafening.
Most of the girls spend all of their time in their rooms so I never see them. When they go downstairs to eat lunch I’m upstairs making sure everything is clean so that I don’t disturb their online classes. It’s almost like dealing with ghosts to a point. It just breaks my heart. I pride myself on being available for whatever the girls need and I want to be a place to go if they need someone to talk to. They’re a long way from home and are going through a lot of stuff on campus, whether it’s you broke up with a love interest or you flunked a test and you want to cry and your mom’s not there. I’ll give you a hug — just pretend that it’s your mom. But I can’t do that now. I haven’t been able to give any sense of comfort to these girls all semester long. That makes me feel like a failure, but there’s nothing I can do. I can’t tell them they’re not going to get COVID, I can’t tell them what we’re having for dinner tomorrow night because I don’t know yet. They’re supposed to all come together as one and right now it’s survival of the fittest.
When parents were moving the girls in they were asking me “What have you done?” and making me assure them that I was going to keep their daughters safe. It was almost like an aggressive it’s all on me kind of thing. My reply was everything has been provided, the research has been done, if they follow the protocol we’ve put in place everyone should be as good as we can hope. We put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into doing the proper research before we even let one girl step foot in that house. But look, getting COVID, not getting COVID … You have a 50/50 shot.
When I found out there was a positive case in the house and that we were shutting the house down I felt pure panic. And it wasn’t for me, it was for the girls. What are these girls going to do without us here, how are we going to reassure them that they’re okay, that they’re going to have what they need? That someone’s going to be there to listen to them? So I sent all of the girls my phone number and yeah, my phone rang. Everyone knew the reality was at some point in time, either the campus or individual homes, were going to shut down because if you get one case you’re done. But the blame that’s placed on Greek life is wrong. It wasn’t my girls having parties off-campus. It wasn’t my girls having guests in the house when there was a no-guest policy. Everyone wants to blame everybody else. But what about those people who you students come in contact with that refuse to wear a mask or have a mask cover their mouth? Those are the people who are wrong and who are spreading COVID from outside of the SU community.
When I used to have a bad day my mom would make me peanut butter and Fluff sandwiches. So I once made the same for the girls and it practically set them all on fire they were so excited. Now it breaks my heart having to drop off food outside of the house. We love these girls. We take care of these girls. We want them to be successful. We create our own family unit and right now our family is broken and again there’s nothing I can do. And as a mom, that rips my heart out.
This as-told-to interview is part of COVID on Campus, a series created by students in the Reporting classes at the Newhouse School in Fall 2020. COVID on Campus documents the experiences of students, staff, and faculty living through this extraordinary time.